A message from Africa’s teachers to the African Union Heads of State

published 7 February 2019 updated 7 February 2019

Addis Ababa, 11 February 2018

Free quality public education is a fundamental human right. It is a goal the people of Africa continue to strive for. It is a goal embraced by Africa’s teachers.

Quality education for the public good is an indispensable condition for the development of our continent and the realisation of the full potential of its people. Quality education for all is essential for achieving the African aspirations enunciated in Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.

The Lagos Plan of Action together with the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 were borne out of an overwhelming necessity to establish an African social and economic order primarily based on utilising to the full, the region 's resources in building a self-reliant economy. This must be the framework for transforming education and training systems in Africa.

Regrettably, we are witnessing a shift away from education as a public good. Far too many governments are retreating from their obligation as guarantors and providers of quality public education for all. We are seeing a reduction in education budgets and increased privatisation of education which, in its different guises, has crept into our education systems and influenced policy and decision makers.

Across the continent we have also witnessed the rapid growth of what is called ‘low-cost’ private schools. These schools are notorious for employing unqualified teachers with low salaries and few labor rights. Foreign multinational corporations seeking market opportunities are targeting major African cities with the largest concentration of children, attacking and undermining public education across the continent.

The rise of ‘low-cost’ school chains run by multinational corporations offers little connection with the culture and rights of citizens, and they operate with inadequate, if any, monitoring or accountability.

Bridge International Academies (BIA) stands out as an example – it is the largest ‘low-cost’, for-profit school chain in the world. In Africa it exhibits both disregard for national sovereignty and the rule of law.

Evidence shows that the expansion of BIA, and other such operators throughout Africa is contributing to the commercialisation and commodification of education and legitimising profit making in the provision of education. It is weakening efforts to strengthen and expand the provision of inclusive and equitable quality free education for all consistent with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4.

States need to prioritise the realisation of the right to education through the allocation of adequate funding, achieved by the mobilisation of sustainable domestic resources, in particular through strengthened and progressive tax regimes and  closing loopholes that facilitate illicit financial outflows.

Research and experience are unequivocal in showing that it is only through a strong, inclusive quality, public education system that societies can be cohesive, just and prosperous.

In the words of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human rights, Philip Alston, it is erroneous to assume that privatisation involves“little more than a change in personnel and uniforms…”

“It ignores the motivations driving the process as well as the essential unwillingness of the private sector to take on rights-related obligations, the inability of pared-down Governments to exercise meaningful supervision, the difficulty of monitoring disparate private providers, the removal of much economic decision-making from the purview of democratic contestation, and the wide-ranging consequences of empowering profit-seeking corporate actors in what used to be the public sphere.”

Privatisation, in all its various manifestations (‘low-cost’ private schools, public private partnerships, charter schools and the pursuit of policy reforms such as vouchers and tax concessions), undermines the right of all students to free, quality education and entrenches inequalities, particularly for girls and the socially disadvantaged.

We, therefore, call on African Heads of State to:

  • Reject privatisation and profit-making in education as it constitutes one of the greatest threat to education as a human right and a public good. Learners and their families must be safeguarded from the exploitation perpetrated by ‘low-cost’ private schools.
  • Prioritise the achievement of inclusive and equitable quality free public education for all, a precondition of which is a well-supported, well-paid qualified teacher in every classroom
  • Realise the internationally-agreed minimum education funding benchmarks by allocating at least 6% of their country’s GDP or at least 20% of the national budget to education.

The teachers of Africa remain ready to work with the African Union Heads of State in the achievement of free quality public education for all.

Statement by Education International African Regional Committee. The elected voice of teachers and other education workers in Africa.